The two faces of Bezos


Jeff Bezos’s shareholder letter got a lot of coverage in the geekier end of the business press this past week. I’m not surprised. There is plenty of great stuff in it.

The Everything Store is one of the books I learned most about what product management could be and it is one I often recommend to people. The annual shareholder letter is the lessons of that booked concentrated.

The focus Bezos brings to being a customer-centric business in order to meet the expectations of customers who..

are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied

..is pretty legendary at this point and this is as good a mission statement for an internet-age business as you will ever see:

experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight.

His comments on the need to avoid the process becoming the thing will chime with anyone who has worked in large bureaucratic organisations (like for instance the Civil Service!) but Dan Hon has written a better response to that aspect than I could.

I also appreciate his thoughts on ‘high-quality, high-velocity decisions’ and their importance to being successful.

Another quote that demonstrates the gap between public sector and the internet-age organisations is;

most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow.

My experience in the Civil Service was often that via the ‘business case’ process leadership was looking for 90% plus of the information but probably only 30% of it was reliable so it was both slow and unreliable!

All of this is inspirational but I would love to see more balance in the coverage of Bezos pearls of wisdom as there is no doubt that there is plenty of less than inspirational thinking that comes out of Amazon HQ.

From the way they treat warehouse workers to the encouraging office staff to anonymously report colleagues who are not ‘pulling their weight’ Amazon often seems to have a pretty toxic culture that it seems to have actually proactively maintained as it has grown alongside the rest of Bezos’s ‘day one’ philosophy.

Which has the bigger influence on their success — the feel good customer-first philosophies or the cut throat, work until you drop environment? Or does the one allow/justify the other?

Maybe now places like Uber seem intent on perfecting the truly toxic workplace Amazon seems a little quaint in its own psychopathic working practices?